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For Parents


About the Center and its services 

Specific parental concerns

What might I expect during my student’s transition to college?

Of course, every student responds to the challenges of college differently. If your student has gone away from home before, their reaction to college may be very similar. If this is the first time your student is leaving home for any period of time, the transition may include periods of feeling lonely, isolated, apprehensive and insecure. It is important that you listen to their feelings and reinforce their strengths. Encourage involvement with other students and with student organizations. You can both work to develop a new, more adult relationship of mutual respect, sharing stories and enjoying this time in your lives. You still represent important guidelines for decision making and although your student may be 18, your advice and involvement are best continued.

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What about homesickness?

Homesickness is a term used to describe what may be experienced as physical symptoms of nausea, sleeplessness and apprehension during a time that an individual is actually away from home and away from either the physical or the psychological aspects of "security." Speaking directly about the feelings of sadness, apprehension and loss seems to decrease homesickness, especially when shared with another person who is also experiencing homesickness. It is also helpful to work directly on establishing a sense of security in the new environment by making new friends, connecting with a faculty member and establishing a routine. Homesickness, regarded as a normal part of the transition to college, generally occurs within the first six weeks of the first semester at college. It is generally mild and passes fairly quickly but can be severe and persistent.

The Counseling Center staff has extensive experience in helping students overcome homesickness. In cases where the student's feelings of homesickness are severe and persistent, the staff can also be helpful in determining whether a timely decision to withdraw and/or transfer to a college closer to home might be in the student's best interest.

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How can parents help students accomplish college student developmental tasks?

Several resources on the internet provide a good picture of the kinds of developmental tasks that are normal for college-age students, and make suggestions for how parents can help in this process. For example:

When Your Child Goes to College (The Morning Call)

Help Your Child Make the Transition from College to High School (360 Degrees of Financial Literacy)

Homesickness: How to Help Your Child (College Board)

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My student is a freshman and doesn't have many friends on campus. What activities at UMD might help them to get more involved?

Students who take part in student organizations, athletics and community service activities tend to make more friends and enjoy their college years more than those students who are not involved in extracurricular activities. Encourage your freshman to join one of the many student organizations on campus by contacting the SAIL office( 2nd floor of the Campus Center), volunteer for community service through the Community Service Program (ground floor of LARTS) or take part in one of the many sports, intramural or fitness center activities offered through the Athletics department (Tripp Athletic Center).

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How can I speak with a staff member during Orientation?

The Counseling Center's Director leads a session during orientation for parents. Parents may also stop by the Center while they are on campus for Family Orientation and ask to talk with one of our staff. If you would prefer, you also can call the Center (508.999.8648/8650) to schedule an appointment in advance.

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I've been trying to encourage my student to make a counseling appointment but they don’t want to go. How can I encourage them to get the needed help?

After listening to your student's thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-judgmental way, you can instill hope by helping them to realize that there are a number of resources available on-campus to assist them with their problems. Point out that help is available at the Counseling Center and that you believe using resources like counseling is a sign of strength and maturity, rather than a sign of weakness or failure. Give information about the counseling service and prepare them for what to expect. If a student is simply not ready to use professional counseling services, you can suggest other resources such as talking with Housing & Residential Life staff, chaplains, faculty advisors, friends or other trusted adults as a first step in addressing concerns.

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How long does it take to get an appointment?

Students can generally schedule an intake appointment within 2-3 days. If a student has a pressing problem, they can be seen without a scheduled appointment Monday-Friday from noon to 3 p.m. during Walk-In hours. If a student is in crisis, a member of the Center's staff will meet with the student as soon as possible.

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What is the best way to set up psychological counseling services for my entering freshman?

If your student already has an established relationship with a therapist, we recommend that the topic of your student's need for therapy at college be discussed with their current therapist with the knowledge that services at UMD's Counseling Center are short-term in nature. If long-term counseling is preferred, your student may choose to arrange regular visits home to keep appointments with their current therapist. If distance prevents this, we suggest you contact the Center's Director prior to starting college and we will facilitate a referral to a local private practitioner. We will also provide assistance with that first semester's crucial adjustment to college. To that end, we encourage any incoming first year student at UMD who has pre-existing mental health issues to schedule an intake appointment with the Counseling Center in late August. This will allow your student to connect with one of our staff and sign releases so we can coordinate care, if needed, with their off-campus therapist. It will also allow us to schedule regular check-ins at the Counseling Center throughout that first semester. And it will provide an opportunity to discuss whether any housing or academic accommodations are needed and how to obtain these.

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Do counselors call students to encourage them to make an appointment at the Counseling Center?

Counseling Center staff members do not generally contact students and ask them to come in or inquire about their mental health. It is our belief that counseling is most effective when it is voluntary, and students often perceive such calls as intrusive. If a situation exists in which the Center receives information that a student is in imminent danger as a result of a psychological problem, a wellness check will be initiated, and, when needed, appropriate law enforcement or emergency medical personnel will be contacted. The Center will contact parents in situations where a student's physical safety or well-being is at risk, when such contact can add to the student's safety.

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Can the counselor call me to keep me updated on how treatment is going?

Because of mental health laws and confidentiality restrictions, we cannot provide any information about your student without a written release giving specific permission to do so. Students can sign a Release of Information form, which allows the counselor to verify attendance, report on progress, or discuss aspects of the therapy. We encourage you to ask your student to sign a release if you want reports about attendance or progress. We encourage students to communicate directly with their parents about their treatment.

On occasion we ask that the student arrange for their parents to attend a counseling session or arrange for a phone conference.

We do not initiate calls to parents unless their student requests the call be made or we determine, due to immediate safety concerns, it is in the best interest of the student to call a parent.

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What if I want to share information about my student or inquire about how they are doing?

Although we cannot give out information to parents unless the student has signed a release, we can listen to parents' concerns. Frequently parents do have insights into the situation that are helpful to the student and to the process of therapy. We will let your student know you have called (and we will present your involvement/concerns in a positive way) and attempt to help them with the issues raised.

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How can the Counseling Center help if my student is having serious academic problems?

If a serious personal situation is affecting your student's academic standing or ability to keep pace with their course work, the Center staff can serve as a liaison with the academic units in the University (such as deans' offices, college advisors and faculty members).

The Center also handles requests for Medical Leaves of Absence for mental health reasons and requests to return to the university after a medical leave due to mental health reasons. The purpose of a Medical Leave of Absence is to allow a student time to recover from medical or mental health problems and, when healthy, return to the university.  Further information on Medical Leaves of Absence is presented later in this FAQ.

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What if a parent, another student, or a faculty or staff member is concerned about a student?

Counselors are available Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm (508.999.8648/8650) to consult with parents and others. Counselors can offer parents and others suggestions for helping the student, provide information about resources available on and off-campus and suggestions about how to encourage the student to make an appointment to see a counselor.

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My student is already in therapy and on a psychotropic medication. What should I do about the therapy and medication issue while they are attending UMD?

Your student should maintain their established relationship with their psychiatrist or physician to continue monitoring their medication as determined and agreed upon prior to leaving home for college. Most students are able to maintain their periodic medication follow-up appointment with their hometown physicians. This is particularly important since psychiatric services are not currently available at UMD.

We suggest that students discuss with their primary care physician and therapist treatment needs while they are away at college. If ongoing psychotherapy is desired, then both student and therapist should contact the Center, preferably before the beginning of the semester, to discuss treatment needs and plan. Plans to go home weekly or bi-weekly for psychotherapy may be difficult due to academic demands. The transition from home to college includes establishing a secure base on campus, and that secure base may include going to therapy sessions on campus at the Counseling Center.

First semester is not a good time for your student to stop therapy or to stop medication! It is recommended that your student continue with their therapy and medications at least through the first six weeks of classes.

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Help! My student only has a little bit of their medication left and they were told that their psychiatrist couldn't give them medication until the student meets the psychiatrist for a full-initial evaluation in two to four weeks. What do I do?

The UMD counseling center does not currently have a psychiatrist on staff, so the best policy is to speak directly with your student’s current prescriber/psychiatrist to resolve this issue.  If you are in the process of transitioning to a new psychiatrist, the new psychiatrist may have suggestions on how to get urgent medication needs met prior to your student’s first appointment. 

In the community surrounding UMass Dartmouth, establishing a new relationship with a psychiatrist may take upwards of 6-8 weeks. The best option for the student running out of medication is to have their prescription renewed by the prescribing psychiatrist or physician or to request their regular PCP renew the prescription until psychiatric care at the the New Bedford/Fall River area can be established.

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What if it is very late in the night and a student is experiencing a psychological or emotional crisis?

Twenty-four emergency crisis consultation and assessment are provided to the campus community by the Center's staff through a well-coordinated protocol system with Housing & Residential Life staff and the UMassD Police Department. Housing & Residential Life staff can access the Center's staff after hours for emergency consultations. When a parent is confronted with a late-night crisis involving critical concerns such as suicidal threats or behavior, a sexual assault or acute anxiety, parents can call the Department of Public Safety (508.999.9191) to initiate a wellness check or crisis intervention. At that time, a determination will be made regarding the need for an immediate evaluation at a local hospital or whether a next-day appointment at the Center for further assessment would be appropriate.

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What if my student is hospitalized for psychological reasons?

If your student is sent to the local hospital outside of regular business hours, you will receive a call from the university's administrator-on-call advising you of the hospitalization and giving you information on how to contact the hospital. If your student needs hospitalization during hours that the Counseling Center is open, you will be contacted by Counseling Center staff. Depending on the circumstances, your student may be sent to the local emergency room via ambulance or you may be assisted in arranging for hospitalization closer to home and asked to come to campus to pick your student up. If the plan is for your student to be hospitalized near home, they will be required to wait for you in the Counseling Center and will receive support and supervision until you arrive.

If family arranges for a student to be hospitalized (with or without assistance from the Counseling Center), family members or the student may contact the Counseling Center (508.999.8648 or 8650) for help with informing faculty that your student will be absent and with arranging post-hospital follow-up care.

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If my student needs to withdraw because of their psychological needs, how can the Center help?

The Counseling Center's clinicians can recommend that a student be given a voluntary medical leave for psychological reasons (see “medical leave of absence” sections further down in the FAQ guide). In rare cases, where a student's mental status precludes their asking for a voluntary leave, the director can recommend an involuntary medical leave for psychological reasons. A medical leave gives a student up to two years to deal with medical issues and return to the university without having to reapply or pay a reinstatement fee. A medical leave requires a student be in treatment during the leave and that the treating therapist document that the student is ready to return to the university by contacting the Director of the Counseling Center. Students returning from a medical leave for psychological reasons are expected to keep regular appointments at the UMD Counseling Center during their first semester back on campus.

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My student has or may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and needs to see the psychiatrist for medication. What do they need to do to have this happen?

Students previously diagnosed with ADHD who are currently on medication will need to work out a plan with their treatment provider regarding maintenance medication while the student is away at college. At this time, UMD's Counseling Center does not provided maintenance medication for students with ADHD.

The Counseling Center will evaluate students who suspect they may have ADHD and make referrals to our psychiatrist when appropriate. Once students who are diagnosed with ADHD are on a stable medication regimen, they will be referred to their PCP or an off-campus psychiatrist for maintenance medication.

Students previously diagnosed with ADHD, who have been off medication for some time or perhaps made the decision not to use medication but who now wish to be treated with medication, can be referred to our psychiatrist to discuss restarting or initiating medication. The student will need to meet with a counselor to complete a preliminary assessment before being referred to the Center's psychiatrist. Once students are on a stable medication regimen, they then will be referred off-campus for maintenance medication.

The Center strongly encourages students with ADHD to register with the Office of Student Accessibility Services (located on the ground floor of the Liberal Arts building), so that academic accommodations, when needed, can be set in place early in the semester.

The Center can provide help with the process of documenting a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD for the Office of Student Accessibility Services, for the purpose of registering and arranging academic accommodations.

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My student has a learning disability. Where can they go to get help on campus?

The Counseling Center can help by providing individual or group counseling focused on developing good study skills, dealing with test anxiety, time management, memory tricks and test-taking strategies and on developing individual strategies to compensate for the specific disability. Office of Student Accessibility Services can help by arranging for academic accommodations (generally a note-taker or copies of the professor's notes, some additional time on tests and/or testing in a low distraction environment). The Academic Resource Center's various programs offer tutoring and help with researching and editing papers.

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I think my student may have an eating disorder. What do I say?

If you think that your student is restricting caloric intake, bingeing, vomiting, making repeated statements about weight or body image, using laxatives/diet pills/diuretics and/or over-exercising, express care and concern about your student's behavior. Recognize that an eating disorder is a serious medical and psychological problem. Ignoring the eating disordered behavior will not make the behavior disappear. On the other hand, parents are not able to effectively "do therapy" with their own student. Instead, encourage your student to seek assistance from trained professionals. Avoid overly focusing on your student's weight or looks. Avoid blaming them for the disorder. Instead, engage in an open dialogue about feelings. Anticipate that your student may be hesitant or resistant to seeking treatment. Recognize also that recovery is a process and relapses may occur. If you would like to consult further, feel free to contact the Center. The Counseling Center does provide treatment for students with bulimia or binge eating disorder. The Center refers students with anorexia to off-campus specialists but will provide back-up support and help with any issues related to being a student.

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How do I help my student who may have been sexually assaulted?

Listen. Let your student express their feelings.

Encourage your student to seek support through the Counseling Center and other on-campus and off-campus resources: Sexual Violence Awareness.

Encourage your student to report the assault. If your student is unwilling to report the sexual assault directly to the police, the report can be made anonymously. Reporting Sexual Violence

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What do I say to my student who has experienced a traumatic event (e.g., unexpected death of a loved one, physical assault, mugging, etc.)?

Listen to your student and normalize the feelings expressed such as shock, fear, anxiety, confusion, and anger. Contact the Counseling Center (508.999.8648/8650) for information regarding medical attention, if necessary, and other resources pertaining to police assistance, reporting procedures, and safety.

Encourage your student to call the Counseling Center and talk with a counselor. Counseling will help them deal with the feelings that are interfering with daily functioning.

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My student has stopped going to class and sounds depressed. What should I do?

Most of us have experienced brief episodes of depression in our lives. Depression that lingers is likely to require professional intervention. Depression may be precipitated by a significant loss such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a special role in life, loss of physical ability due to illness or injury, loss of self-esteem after failing to reach an important goal. Perfectionism, setting unrealistically high goals, or expecting to be in control of everything in our lives--all can set us up for depression. Some common signs of depression include:

  • Persistent sadness, excessive crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • Anger, irritability
  • Sleep/appetite problems

Your student may look to you as a role model and may view you as a major resource for guidance and help with their problem. Your willingness to be there--to listen, to support and encourage, to share your knowledge and experience, to advise--plays a significant role in your student's persistence and success. Discuss with your student the option of coming to the Counseling Center and speaking with a professional who can help. Your student may be skeptical and reluctant to seek this help. It is important for you to accept their reaction, while calmly repeating your recommendation.

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I think my student drinks too much. Where can I send them for help?

Sometimes parents see behaviors that cause concern about drug or alcohol use. If several of the following statements are true, your student may have a problem with drugs or alcohol:

  • Has your student’s personality changed noticeably and are there sudden inappropriate mood changes (irritability, unprovoked hostility or giddiness)?
  • Does your student seem to be losing old friends and hanging out with a drinking or partying group?
  • Are you missing money or items that could be converted to cash?
  • Is your student in trouble with the law?
  • Are there signs of medical or emotional problems (ulcers, gastritis, liver problems, depression, overwhelming anxiety, withdrawal from friends and family, suicide talk or gestures)?
  • Do you detect physical signs such as alcohol on the breath, pupil change, redness of eyes, slurred speech or staggering?
  • Is your student concerned about thier use of alcohol, or other drugs including marijuana?

If you speak to your student about your concerns, remember to do so calmly and to be aware of your own emotions and attitudes. Feel free to call the Counseling Center for further help with questions you may have. A counselor can speak with you regarding other factors to consider regarding assessment and treatment options. The Counseling Center has a certified substance abuse and addictions specialist on staff who can help students who have concerns about their drinking find community resources to address the problem.

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My student’s boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is abusive. Where can they go for help?

Your student can call the Counseling Center for assistance. If you are concerned about an immediate threat to your student’s physical safety, call the UMassD Police Department 508.999.9191.

More resources:

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What is a medical leave of absence?

A Medical Leave of Absence (MLOA) is a way of taking time away from school to get treatment for an underlying medical or psychological condition, with the option to return to school in a future semester once that condition has been adequately treated.

Examples may include (but are not by no means limited to) a serious concussion or other injury, a serious physical illness or disease, severe depression/anxiety, bipolar disorder, or a psychologically traumatizing event.  If the condition is getting in the way of the student’s academic success, the student might qualify for a MLOA. 

  • Taking a MLOA during the semester means withdrawing from all classes.
  • All grades for that semester become “W’s” and do not count toward the student’s GPA.
  • If a MLOA is taken between semesters, that student does not register for new classes until they are ready to return from the MLOA (see details of returning below).
  • An MLOA could be for one semester or several semesters. Undergrads can be on an MLOA for up to two years, (4 semesters) while graduate students can be on an MLOA for up to one year (two semesters) without needing to re-apply to the university.
  • For conditions that are primarily or entirely physical, a student’s eligibility for a medical leave would be determined through Health Services. Please contact the Health Center for more information on taking a MLOA for physical health reasons.
  • For conditions that are primarily or entirely psychological/psychiatric, that student’s eligibility is determined through the Counseling Center.
  • Students may voluntarily withdraw from a certain number of credits during their time at UMass Dartmouth without having an underlying medical condition. An MLOA does not count toward the credit limit for voluntary withdrawal.
  • Except for very rare circumstances, a MLOA is only granted if it is sought on or before the deadline for withdrawing from classes. For example, sometimes a leave might be granted after the withdrawal date if the student was hospitalized during the withdrawal deadline.  MLOAs are not retroactively granted for semesters that have already come to an end.
  • A student cannot take an MLOA for mental health purposes just by filling out the appropriate paperwork. They must meet with a provider at the Counseling Center.  The provider will evaluate the condition, the student’s eligibility for MLOA, and will provide more information about MLOA.  If a student is eligible for an MLOA, they will be given the option to proceed with filling out the paperwork and will be guided through the process.

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What are some alternatives to a medical leave of absence?

Depending on a student’s circumstances, a student might consider:

  • Talking to professors to request an extension on individual assignments (if needed). Many professors are willing to be flexible if they understand that there is a good reason for the request.
  • Seeking accommodations for medical/psychiatric/psychological conditions through the office for Access and Success.
  • Talking to professors to discuss an “incomplete” for particular classes. An “incomplete” means that a student can complete their assignments and/or exams in the weeks and months after the semester has come to an end (determined by the professor).  When the work for the semester is complete, your grade is recorded as normal.  An incomplete might be taken in one class or many classes, as needed.
  • Voluntarily withdrawing from some or all classes. Students may voluntarily withdraw from a certain number of classes during their time at UMass Dartmouth and do not need to have an underlying medical condition in order to do so.  A MLOA is for students with an underlying medical condition (whether sudden or ongoing).

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How can my student take a medical leave of absence?

  • The student should contact the Counseling Center or Health Services to set up an appointment, and let us know that they're seeking an evaluation for a MLOA. Be mindful that the deadline for taking an MLOA is the same as the normal withdrawal deadline for the semester.  Rare exceptions might include when a student was hospitalized during the withdrawal deadline.
  • During or after the student's meeting with the Counseling Center, they will be given some simple paperwork to fill out. This paperwork includes details on the medical leave process as well as steps they need to take prior to returning to campus at the conclusion of the MLOA. 
  • The student is encouraged to ask any questions they have about the MLOA process itself, as well as questions you might have about things like how it will impact tuition, financial aid, etc. They might be referred to other offices to get some of these questions answered, since the details of these issues may vary from individual to individual.
  • If the student lives in the campus residence halls, they must make arrangements to check out and leave campus promptly. Students who are on a MLOA will generally not be allowed to live on campus or work on campus during their medical leave.

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What does a student do during a medical leave of absence?

In short, focus on their health.  They should seek treatment for their underlying health condition and take the steps they need to get better.  We care about our students, and we want them to get the help they need so that when you return to campus, they are able to succeed, be well, and thrive.

For a MLOA that is for a psychiatric/psychological health condition:

  • Students are required to have 12 sessions or 3 months of psychotherapy. This is because most mental health conditions require at least 12 sessions to treat effectively, and we want to make sure that students are getting real help with the mental health condition so that they can be healthy and successful when they return to campus.
    • Therapy must be with a licensed mental health provider.
    • Sessions with a prescriber (psychiatrist or another medical doctor) are excellent and are encouraged, but do not count toward the 12 session/3-month requirementTherapy must be with a licensed therapist, counselor, psychologist, clinical social worker not just a provider for medication management.
  • Students should discuss their progress with their mental health provider(s)
    • If the student is not sure how to connect with a mental health provider, the counseling center can provide referrals (and ways of finding a provider in your area).
    • Students should have open and honest discussions with their provider(s) about when they've made enough progress that returning to school would be in their best interest. If possible, we want to ensure that any underlying mental health issues do not interfere with your wellbeing and your academic success upon your return.
    • The Counseling Center would be happy to provide a treatment summary or other records to the student's mental health provider(s) upon request.

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How does a student return from a medical leave of absence?

When the student and their mental health provider agree that the student is ready to return to school:

  • First, have the provider write a brief letter summarizing their treatment, and have them mail/fax the letter to the Counseling Center at 508.999.9192. The letter should include:
    • A summary of the work that they've done (diagnosis, progress, lingering issues)
    • The number of sessions the student has had, and over what period of time (for example, x sessions over the course of x months)
    • Their professional opinion on whether the student is ready to return to school, or whether their underlying mental health condition would make this a bad idea for the student's physical or mental health.
    • Any other details that the student's provider thinks may be important for the Counseling Center to know
  • Next, have the student call the counseling center at (508) 999-8650 to arrange a meeting with a campus counselor. This meeting is usually brief (30 minutes), and the student and the counselor will review:
    • The reason for the student's medical leave (depression, substance use disorder, etc.)
    • The student's progress in addressing the underlying cause of the medical leave
    • The student's readiness to return to campus (supported by the letter the student's provider sent us in the first step, above)
    • What steps can be taken to help the student re-acclimate to campus and maintain their mental wellness for this semester and beyond
    • In some cases (such as when a student is very far from campus or when the world is in the midst of a global pandemic), the session may be conducted remotely.
    • If circumstances allow, the clinician will also schedule an intake appointment for the student at the Counseling Center. The student will be expected to have regular appointments at the Counseling Center during their first semester back.
    • When the visit is complete, if the student has been cleared to return to campus, they will receive an official letter confirming this.
  • The student will also need to contact their academic advisor and inform them that they are planning on returning to school. After meeting with them, the advising hold on the student's COIN account will be removed.  They may also be asked to update their emergency contacts at this time.
  • If the student plans to live on campus, they should contact Res Life to arrange this.
  • During the student's first semester back, they are expected to meet with a counselor at the Counseling Center on a regular basis. If they have a community mental health provider that they like, they may continue to see this person with occasional check-ins at the Counseling Center. If the student is receiving ongoing therapy in the community, their visits with the Counseling Center may be briefer and less frequent.


We would like to acknowledge our colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and SUNY New Paltz whose similar Parents FAQ pages we have liberally borrowed from in order to create our own version. We invite colleagues at other campuses to liberally borrow from these FAQs. It is this spirit of collaboration that serves our students, and our University, best.

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